Route Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya

Mombasa (blue) to Diani Beach (red) – 23 miles (1 hour due to Likoni Ferry) – see post here

Diani Beach to Tsavo East (green) – 144 miles (5 hours through the Shimba Hills) – see post here

Tsavo East to Tsavo West (yellow) – 83 miles (4 hours pole pole game drive) – see post here

Tsavo West to Amboseli (purple) – 82 miles (5 hours – horrendous road!) – see post here

Amboseli to Nairobi (blue) – 141 miles (5ish hours – horrible road to tar, dangerous road thereafter!) – see post here

Beach life has got the better of me and I’m afraid I am months behind with the blog.  Here goes to trying to catch up…  As always, Facebook has the most recent extracts of news and photos – http://www.facebook.com/london2cape

AMBOSELI, KENYA
4th – 5th August 2013

Best photos are on the Facebook album, aptly named “Amboseli”

Amboseli Kimana Campsite; Woke up nice and early under the slopes of Kili at my basic campsite outside the gates of Amboseli. I unzipped and peered through the tent window up towards the general direction of the mountain but it was still completely clouded over.  All hopes of capturing that incredible image of elephants walking with Kili in the background was completely shattered when I realised that the “cold” season meant that the mountain would be covered in cloud, not just today, not just this week, but for months…

Kimana Campsite outside Amboseli Gates

The previous evening I had been treated to a surprisingly warm shower and had brushed my teeth in the outdoor basin carved from an old tree stump.  The sounds of African laughter and smell of burning fires from their cooking area had lulled me into a deep sleep.  I felt like I’d slept for a week.

On registration at Kimana Gate, a friendly local guide called Salim started chatting to me.  He’d seen me at Kitani in Tsavo and had driven his clients, a honeymoon couple, from Tsavo to Amboseli with the earlier 10am convoy the day before.  Salim kindly offered to have me tag behind them for the day, he knew the park and was in contact with the other drivers. After slight hesitation and not wanting to put the honeymooners out, I declined initially but his insistence left me with no option but to accept the offer and so I hung behind his cruiser for the morning.  I chowed a bit of dust in return for the favour and generally saw things I might have done anyhow. It was a nice gesture nonetheless.  Amboseli is mostly open and plains stretch as far as the horizon at times, so spotting elephants, zebra, wildebeest and antelope is pretty effortless.

Amboseli, Kenya

After a few hours, we stopped at a lovely lodge called Ol Tukai, for a mid morning break.  The honeymooners, eager to snatch an opportunity to spend a moment without their driver of four days, took off immediately and left me with the Salim. Sitting at the lodge bar, coffee turned into beer (I felt it impolite to let Salim in on the fact that I throw up in my mouth when I drink beer) and he refused to let me buy the round, insisting that he cover the cost.  One beer, going down with hooks, turned into three I started to get slightly uneasy about the fact that the honeymooner’s driver was taking time out of their game drive to have beers with a random traveller.  They seemed fine though and were enjoying time to themselves, but I did have to strongly suggest that we didn’t have a fourth before continuing on with the game drive (at £80 entry fee per day, I was also calculating how much of that I had now spent on sitting in a bar).

Amboseli, Kenya

We pushed on and saw more of the same herding animals in the wide open plains; elephants wading deep in the marshy bog, hippos spilling out of themselves on the grassy banks of the lake and various cranes strutting about the grassy plains.  We stopped for lunch at Observation Hill, a fantastic vantage point and from which one can see most of Amboseli.  Once again, the honeymooners shot off to be with each other and I was left chatting to my new friend Salim.  Conversation had soon run it’s course and turned to asking me if I wanted to come to have dinner at the lodge his clients were staying at, and that the manager was a nice guy and would let me camp no problem.  I protested a bit but my campsite was pretty basic and the thought of possibly spending the night at a nice lodge with a campsite was extremely appealing.  A little concerned that I hadn’t made any plans with the lodge manager himself, I didn’t want to commit entirely.

The end of the day was spent racing around as whispers of a lion sighting made it’s way from driver to driver. Salim dove like a rally driver and I kept up, chowing more and more dust in his wake. Eventually we found the lions just off some remote little side road and had about 3 minutes alone with them before the cavalry showed up, churning up a sand storm of fine dust.  We left as more and more trucks descended upon the lion pair, the sky now filled with fine white dust, I sure they got some great photos of the whiteout…

Lions in Amboseli, Kenya

We were late leaving the gate due to a last minute cheetah sighting, and narrowly missed a fine, we got out at 6:15pm. After a brief chat with Salim and the honeymooners, I succumbed to Salim’s constant insistence that I camp at their lodge, Elerai.  It took almost a full hour to drive down the corrugated road and then into the bush on a really dire single track; over rocks, through thorn trees and down dongas…  It was dark, dusty and I was pretty exhausted by the time we arrived, but driving into Elerai it was immediately apparent that this was an exclusive lodge and definitely not a place for camping vagabonds…

It was dark now and I was a good hour from my campsite (which, sadly was right next to the gate of the park where we left off).  The manager looked doubtful, Salim looked crushed, the honeymooners looked pitiful and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me and my blundering rig.  Salim started enquiring about room rates and discounts, but at almost £100 per night, there was no way I was staying here.  The honeymooners offered me the spare bed in their room…

Declining all kind offers and just wanting to high tail the hell out of there, I bode farewell to the honeymooners and to the camp manager.  I asked Salim to take me as far as the main dirt road that leads to Kimana Gate. After briefly getting lost on the small bush tracks, we finally made it to the main dirt road 40 minutes later.  In the dark of the night, I pulled up next to Salim and turned to acknowledge him before I put my foot down but he jumped out of his truck and came running over.

“I have caused you too much trouble tonight.  Please can I come with you to help you set up your tent”

Uhhh, what?!  “No thanks Salim, you have been kind enough today.”

“I know it’s dusty and you need to cook”

Be nice…  “Yes Salim, it’s 8pm, it’s dark, and my roof top tent is thick with dust.  But no thanks, you have been kind enough today, and your guests need you.”

“I’m off the clock now.  Can we go and get some nyama chomma (roadside braai meat) together”

“No Salim”,  Eish! patience wearing extremely thin, “you’ve been very kind but I need to go now.”

“Ok, but we’re good friends now, can I have your email address”

I scribbled an email address down on a scrap of paper and shot off into the night.  Good luck to whoever is receiving emails from Salim…

After a day of driving, and all that drama, there was no way I was going to unpack my roof top tent, thick with fine powdery dust.  I skipped dinner altogether, lay down a kikoy, crawled onto my back seat, covered myself with a towel and got a pretty shitty night’s sleep…

Misguided kindness – it’s all around you in Africa – knowing when it’s happening is the hard part!

2013.08Amboseli (269)The next morning there was a frantic jostling for space in the park just near the gate as hordes of game viewing vehicles piled up on the side of the road.  It was Kili opening up for a brief moment.  The clouds had separated just enough for you to see her glacier capped summit, and to top it all off, we had a group of pachyderm grazing roadside.  Now, anyone who knows anything will be able to tell you that happening upon a herd of elephants in the foreground of your Kilimanjaro shot is one of the most coveted photos – and comes with huge bragging rights… Unfortunately the elephants had inconveniently chosen to hide behind the most unattractive vegetation and you could barely see Kili’s white peak amongst the clouds of a similar hue.  No matter, we all screeched to a halt, heads popped up through vehicle roofs, cameras cocked and aimed, recommencing another round of lens showboating.  I don’t even have a decent picture to add to this blog it was such a poor scene.  Gutted!

Kilimanjaro, above the clouds – from Amboseli

I took a drive into uncharted territory in search of more elusive game.  My GPS marked the route as “off road”, and I soon understood why.  I ended up on the worst track imaginable and to throw a spanner in the works, the Beast was clunking on every small rise and fall.  It sounded like the shock at the back was going to fail completely.  For over 3 hours I crawled over martian rocky landscape, following an imaginary path guided by my GPS.  I limped passed a Masai village and eventually ended up back near one of the larger lodges where tried to get a mechanic to look at the problem. He couldn’t find anything, tightened a few bolts and told me I’d be fine. On leaving the lodge, I went over a small speed bump and CLUNK, nothing fixed… so I decided to leave the park and head back to Nairobi as soon as I could to get it looked at.

On my way out, I was super lucky to see Kili open up again, just in front of a herd of zebra and wildebeest – you can barely see the summit but it’s there…!  (See photo above – you can just make out Kili at the top!)

Corrugations, what’s not to love about them?

It took ages to get up to the northern gate at Eremito.  The roads are in pretty bad condition in the park, and worse was to come on the 20kms from the park gate to the tar road.  It felt like an eternity on this hellish road with some of the deepest corrugations yet.  I felt myself being shaken to pieces and was worried about back shocks but couldn’t hear anything over the noise.  Once on smooth tar, the shocks seemed ok but the trade off was more typical crazy Kenyan driving and near misses.  I couldn’t believe the traffic leading into Nairobi and was so grateful for my Tracks 4 Africa map on my Garmin.  Without a navigator, and not a single street sign, I would have been completely lost.

NAIROBI, KENYA
6th August 2013

I found Upper Hill campsite no problem, and immediately drove to Engen where they took over an hour to wash car out and wipe down inside.  My fellow car campers at Upper Hill were Bruno, who had been traveling the world since 1989 in his Land Cruiser, and Mike and Carol on their way up from SA.  I also met Steve Halton, an English guy who was cycling from Cape Town to wherever up north…!  Always admire these cyclists – they carry just what they need and live on next to nothing.

Upper Hill Camp in Nairobi

It was super cold in Nairobi.  At 17 degrees, my one warm jersey just wasn’t enough so I wore layers of what I could. I had a hot shower, scrubbed the earth off my body and rinsed 6 days of dust and bush from my hair.

I got the car looked at Engen again the next day and we found a massive bolt missing from the roll bar at the back.  The mechanics were amazing and spent half the day driving around looking for the right bolt.  They gave everything a check, cleaned out the air filters and checked my tyres – everything came to just under £15! Bargain Kenya – asante sana!

Next stop: Naivasha and then hunt for flamingos!

Declining Escorts in Tsavo, Kenya

TSAVO EAST TO TSAVO WEST, KENYA
2nd – 3rd August 2013

See more photos on Facebook here.

The next morning Dan, Ivan, Anneloes and Fay went off for an early game drive and I stayed behind to sorted out a few bits and pieces not quite right with the packing arrangement in the Beast. (It would take me almost a week of fiddling with the boxes and equipment, moving things around so that the most used things got priority at the top of boxes and easily accessible places – clearly remnant of some childhood tetris addiction).

I continued on along to Voi gate where I added some more money to my safari card and bumped into Dan and Ivan, back from their early morning drive and attempting to do the same. Amazing what a process it is adding money to these cards.  It’s a bit like having an Oyster Card in the UK, but not as swift.  We we were all there almost a full hour… You can’t enter the parks without enough credit on your card – supposedly to reduce the accepting of hard cash at the gates (it’s reasonable to assume the KWS cottoned onto the fact that the number of visitors didn’t add up to the amount of cash in the till at the end of each month…)

I took the scenic route, a stretch of road heading north, parallel with the main road, up toward Mudanda Rock. A 1.6km single hunk of rock, it which acts as a water catchment and has an enormous dam below it. I and stopped to take a look. One single giraffe stood splayed legged at the distant edge with it’s head dipped in the water. The lack of animals didn’t detract from the view though and I took a few selfies (one drawback to traveling solo). The road down to Manyani Gate
was awesome, with the earth dropping away to a vast plain of yellow grassland, and opening itself up to tons of wildlife. I joined the main road and entered Tsavo West at Tsavo Gate a little further down the road.

KWS lady at the Tsavo West gate, “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder (again), ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten (still), and shrug, “I guess so”.  Eish her bosom bounced up and down as she laughed in disbelief and waved me through…

Tsavo West is dense in bush and shrub so animals are a lot more difficult to spot. The scenery however, changes every five minutes and is completely different and dramatic. I found myself resisting the urge to take photos around almost every bend. Sadly, I have completely mistimed this day. My accommodation for the night was right over the other side of the park and I had planned a route passed some significant points of interest along the way, which followed a slightly less direct route, past a massive waterhole (nothing) and up to Roaring Rocks lookout which was almost a 360 degree view of the land below. I drove on past the usual suspects, antelope, zebra and a few elephant but the land is just so think with bush. Probably find I drove past tons of herds and troops who all spotted me and the Beast instead – game viewing in reverse.

With dusk drawing closer, I had one spot I wanted to see before heading to my room for the night Mzima Springs – a small oasis of perfectly clear water that rises up from the Chyulu Hills and produces 250 million litres of water per day, most of which heads downstream to Mombasa. My run with crappy animal spotting didn’t change much and I failed to see one of the many hippos or crocs that reside in this spring…  I did sit and look at some fish in the underwater viewing chamber which was quite cool.

Kitani Bandas, Tsavo West

My room for the night was a cute rondavel at Kitani Bandas, a more affordable little camp a stone’s throw from it’s the luxurious counterpart, Severin Lodge. My ‘room steward’ Alex showed me the ins and outs briefly, mentioning that I should let the water in the shower run for a bit as it needs time to warm up. Well I stood naked and goose-bumpy in that shower for a good 8 minutes before giving up on the hot water and taking a quick 2 minute scrub down under cold water… Africa’s not for sissies.

Severin Lodge, Tsavo West

I decided to dine at Severin Lodge to indulge in the luxury of wifi, good food and wine. Drove down the road in the dark and on pulling into the car park, a fair distance from reception  (bare in mind these camps are unfenced), was greeted by a Masaai who suddenly materialised from the dark of night, teeth was all I saw. He was in full get-up, spear and all, and his sudden manifestation scared the living shite out of me. He laughed, apologised and made polite small talk before walking me by torch light to the reception area  (personally, I think he gets a kick out of that and does it to all new guests, ensuring that his tribal stalking through stealth abilities are still in tact).   I went back the next morning for a cup of coffee and heard that during the night, lions had snuck into camp and completely torn apart one of the loungers outside a luxury hut – justifying my freakout with the Masaai man.  Africa’s not for scardy cats…

The staff at Severin were amazing, their English impeccable and their manner with guests incredible. I went back the next day and was greeted by name at least two of the staff – that’s touching. Dinner was a four course menu of the finest foods – the small but delicious kind. Dining by myself, I do feel a bit spare at times but the Planet often feels Lonely too, so this resourceful book accompanies me to dinner at times.  As I’m driving much of the day, I don’t get to research for the day ahead and so dinner’s often a good time to get stuck in. This night I ate under the stars, with my flickering candle, seat facing bush-ward towards the spot lit area. The chef even came over for a little chat to see how I’d enjoyed his food – top service!

TSAVO WEST TO AMBOSELI, KENYA
3rd to 4th August 2013

Tsavo West waiting for convoy to Amboseli

The plan was to go to bed fairly early and wake up before sparrows to do a quick game drive and then join the 10am Amboseli convoy from Chyulu Gate. Well it seems my phone battery died sometime during the night and I woke up 10 minutes to the 10am checkout / convoy time!  I’d slept for almost 11 hours straight!  Clearly wasn’t going to make the 10am convoy then, and would join the next one at 2pm… I took a lengthy game drive and made my way over to Chyulu for 2pm to join the last convoy of the day only to be told that there weren’t any other cars going.  I would be a convoy of one, and would I like an escort?  Shame man, now this escort (AK47 accessorized) would come all the way to Amboseli only to have to mission the way back again (how, I don’t know.  There are no busses really so I guess he’d have to wait to come back the other way with someone else in my situation and heaven knows how long he’d be waiting at the other end – I didn’t pass a SINGLE vehicle going my way or the other way to Amboseli!).  So I politely refused on pity grounds.  AK47 man was also very short on English, and in response, my Swahili is woeful at the best of times, so can you imagine the 2-3 hour silence – no thanks… I love to sing, at full throttle whilst driving and his presence would rob me of this vocal freedom.

Driving out the gate and on towards Amboseli you pass the Shetani lava flow, a 50km squared area of black volcanic rock – pretty awesome and very black.

The road up to Amboseli was hectic with corrugations, and took around 2 hours. With dust flying up behind me, I passed local Masaai villages and had to wait for dusty bovine trains to cross before I could continue on with my journey. At one village a boom halted my progress. I sat in the car not knowing what to expect when I saw an armed soldier beckon me over to a small wooden hut next to the side of the road. Hopped out the car and went over. Friendly greetings didn’t seem to be his cup of tea.

“You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten (still), and shrug (yet again), “I guess so”.

“You can’t pass”, he informs me with eyes dark and yellow, “All vehicles must pass me by 2 o’clock and it’s 5 o’clock now”.
Well I laughed, and then quickly stopped when I realised he wasn’t the joking kind. My tone a little more serious now, “But the last convoy only leaves Amboseli 50kms down the road at 2 o’clock, and by the way, it’s only ten past four”.
“Where is your escort?”
“I don’t need an escort.”
This was his little window for a chance of me ‘parting with something’…
“Where do you come from?”
“Tsavo West” (thought we’d established this…)
“NO, which is your country?”
“South Africa.” (I’m positive they think people from the UK are all millionaires so I avoid telling them I’ve actually come in from England – South Africans are Africans and therefore must be slightly less well off)
“What have you brought me from South Africa?”
“Hmmm, nothing.” (honestly had nothing to give the man, other than the cash bribe he was after)
He kept me there, took my details and continued to ask what I had brought him from South Africa. I didn’t have a thing… After 5 minutes of being completely difficult and wasting my time…
“Go and buy something from those people there”
I looked around to the three local Masaai hanging around my drivers side door.
“But I don’t want anything today thanks”
“You go buy or you won’t pass”

So I purchased a KES2000 (£15!!) bracelet for KES500 from an old Masaai lady with stretched earlobes and the boom was finally lifted.

Kimana Campsite outside Amboseli Gates

Kimana Campsite was where I was headed and I arrived at around 5pm, too late to enter Amboseli for the day, so I set up camp in this pretty stark campsite. I spent at good amount of time trying to clean the inch of dust the outside of the Beast and tent before opening it up. (When you’re the one washing your own clothes by hand, you do everything possible to try to keep the few items you have clean!). I even wiped down the inside dash and back-end boxes which, after 3 days of chasing round the bush, were all covered in a fine layer of dust. Leftover meat from the braai in Tsavo made for great steak and cheese sandwiches. and I hit the sack at 9pm, keen to get going early the following day and see Kili looming above in the morning light…

SHIMBA HILLS TO TSAVO EAST, KENYA
1st August 2013

Check out more photos on Facebook here.

After stocking up with last minute snacks and food at Nakumatt for my 4-5 day game drive, I headed down the long sultry coast road of Diani. Past the ladders above the road for the Colobus monkeys, the dreaded unannounced speed bumps, Shakatack and the sign down to Forty Thieves – how does one grow to love a place so much after such a short stay?

The earth up at Shimba Hills is a stunning red colour and the forest feels like it’s on top of you at times.  It’s just spectacular. Rolling along the red track, taking in the views as the road winds it’s way through the hills and villages, past some farmers fields and livestock along the way then CRACK… I nearly jumped out of my frikkin skin! It sounded like lightning, but the windscreen was suddenly covered in water (like he heavens had opened up, but just over my car, in one truckload of water). I realised my 50l shower bucket on top of the roof rack had come loose, fallen forward onto the windscreen and smashed. I’m so fortunate the steel tap didn’t shatter or even crack the windscreen (this Beast is a toughie).

My home-made shower kicked the bucket – Shimba Hills

I stopped the Beast and got out to check the damage… my shower had most definitely kicked the bucket… At this point, a truckload of locals pulls up over the horizon from behind. The driver starts shouting at me with his hands in the air, annoyed at having a vehicle in his path. I pointed slowly to my broken bucket, gave him sad eyes, and toed the area where the water had soaked into the earth (there was a full on river!). The driver’s tune changed when he saw my misfortune, and pitiful cries of “pole” were heard from the traveling onlookers as the truck rolled slowly by.

“Pole pole” is the Swahili word used for “slow”, but at this moment in time I realised that “pole” (in singular form) must be the term used for “ag shame”.

The drive through the Shimba Hills was magnificent, it’s so lush and beautiful. I carried on through a couple of small villages, waved at the passers by, old men on bikes, children walking along in groups, herdsman… but no one waved back. Then it dawned on me that my side windows were tinted and that they couldn’t see my enthusiastic greeting. I made a mental note to wave from the windscreen area in future.

Villages on the way to Tsavo

I turned left at the end of the dirt road and made my way up onto the Mombasa-Nairboi road (the section on driving this road just about needs an entire post for itself). The driving in Kenya (as mentioned previously) is pretty horrendous and this road, in particular, serves as the only route for ALL import and export for the whole of East Africa. The railway line for cargo is just about non-existent so everything arrives and leaves by truck – every single goddamn container-baring one of them, heading up and down this road…

Driving this road takes nerves of steel, eyes in the back of your head, timing, advanced driving skills and a massive helping of pure luck. It really is a matter of leap frogging your way around the caravan of trucks, with each overtaking opportunity resembling something like this…

  • drive at 50km/h (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, pull back sharply to the left as oncoming trucks approach,
  • repeat x20,
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, see a 100m strip of clear tarmac ahead,
  • check wing mirror and blind spot just in case you missed a sneaky matatu (taxi) and to ensure you’re not being overtaken from five cars behind,
  • foot flat and turbo boost to 100km/h,
  • eyes wide, heart pounding as truck bares down lights flashing (even though a reasonable distance away),
  • hard left quickly back into the 7m gap left between the next two trucks,
  • rapid deceleration to 50km/h again (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • continue to repeat the process whilst witnessing the most horrendous driving in your life; trucks overtaking cars, the slow overtaking the even slower, the fast overtaking anything and everything… on blind rises, over solid lines, on the dirt next to the road, five cars in a row past seven trucks in a row – I could go on and on.

Talk about a crash course (!!) in East African driving…

I turned off the road at Buchuma Gate at the southern point of Tsavo East. A buffalo skull welcomed me at the gate and the lady behind the counter took some time to absorb the fact that I was indeed on my own and wasn’t hiding a small companion in my cruiser.  Maybe they get lots of cheapskates trying to get into the parks for free (which isn’t without just cause at $65-$80 per person per day).

I have had this many times over since… “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten, and shrug, “I guess so”.

Dry and parched landscape of Tsavo East

I drove up the hot and dusty track towards Aruba Dam with not much game on the way. I did spot some elephant in the distance and, as you tend to do when on your first game drive after a leave of absence, shot around 20 photos of the reddy grey lumps in the distance. Aruba Dam was dry which was a bit of a disappointment as the guide book had really bigged it up. I took a smaller road down next to a river and saw more elephant, a little closer this time (cue another 30 snaps of distant reddy grey lumps). The sun was hanging low in the sky so I pressed on to the public campsite for my first real night of camping. Stoked to finally have the opportunity to camp out in the bush with no one about (I didn’t pass a single car the whole day!), I drove into the almost desolate (but for one other bakkie) campsite.  I was leaning, elbow out my window, reading the do’s and don’ts on a signboard when from the bush I heard my name being yelled. Could this be the sad deluded voice of loneliness calling me in my head? I turned to where I thought the voice had come from, lifted my sunnies and squinted to get a better look.  Running towards my car is none other than Dan Sorrell (my fellow Saffa and total trouble maker from Mombasa Backpackers)!

Sundowners with friends in Tsavo East

TTC 5: I had no idea Dan was planning on coming to Tsavo, he had no idea I was either.  We had said our tearful goodbyes days earlier in Mombasa… I was there for one night and one night only, and we were the only two cars in the campsite.

Dan was camping with Ivan, Anneloes and Fay so I came over and set up camp near them. We had sundowners in a dry river bed accompanied by a guide who Ivan chatted away to happily in Swahili.  Watching the sun dip below the horizon whilst sipping on Patron – what a way to end the day! We had a braai in the presence of the Captain until the early hours of the morning. Awesome first night!  If only I could have a chance bumping into of friends every night on my travels, I’d be so chuffed!

[19 August] Things have a funny way of working out… and this whole journey so far has been about a collection of coincidences and events where I almost didn’t, but then did… and ended up meeting awesome people, getting to know their friends, and experiencing the unexpected kindness of strangers.

You’ll have to read the next few entries to see just how these little changes affected a potentially disastrous outcome. Follow the treasure trail of coincidences over the next few posts to see how lucky I ended up.

MOMBASA, KENYA
26th – 30th July 2013

So, with cash flying out my wallet at an insane rate (due to unexpected customs, parting with cash and port charges), I decide to move to a backpackers. Searching online I find a nice looking place nearby called Nirvana Backpackers (sounds tranquil enough) and enquired online. I also check the Lonely Planet which alternatively and rather cheerfully suggested Mombasa Backpackers

Mombasa Backpackers

“If you thought backpacker hostels had to be cramped and grimy places be prepared for a surprise. This is a huge white mansion surrounded by lush, coconut gardens (with camping areas). The spacious rooms and dorms are well maintained and there’s a decent swimming pool. Note that there have been some muggings in the vicinity of the hostel.”

[Lonely Planet East Africa July 2012]

Muggings in the area? Hey ho, that’s standard in Kenyan cities right? So I gave the owner David a call and he had space in a single room. Got back from the port office that afternoon and hadn’t heard from Nirvana so taxied over to Mombasa Backpackers and wandered into the reception area, laden with bags (still bearing my folding shovel, step stool, four large unnecessarily weighty padlocks). As always, when arriving at a new backpacking joint, I tend to do a quick recce and mentally assess the situation. Everyone always looks like they belong, morphed into the lounging chairs, sipping beers at the bar, wandering around barefoot, and you’re the spare kid who’s just arrived, with no friends, looking like you might need to be picked for one of the many gangs gathered in various hot spots… feeders at the dinner table, actives at the table tennis table, readers on the cushions, peace corps world changers in circles on the lawn, loungers lazing pool side or Chinese-eyes in stoner’s corner near the bottom of the garden.

Anyone for 90% DEET?

Liz showed me to my single room. She unlocked the door and as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light I saw a horde of disturbed mozzies rise up from the darkness. Liz made a swift exit back to her post behind the reception desk / bar, leaving me to wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into. David is going to kill me for this, but the room is below par on all standards. The mattress was stained, the painted walls bubbling and peeling, the hole in the wall with mesh (window?) had some heavy material nailed across it. Judging by the dust settled on the curtain creases, it hadn’t been cleaned or moved for months, the top section between the door and ceiling was missing, and the room itself was as big as a postage stamp. The bathroom next door was covered in muddy footprints, the shower curtain was missing and the plumping had seen better days decades ago. The mozzie net, patched up in places with material plasters, was insufficient and didn’t quite stretch over all corners of the bed and so hung low leaving very little space in the middle for a person.

Not ideal when you’re tired and dirty…

Something I hadn’t considered was the lack of bedding… my sleeping bag (as you may recall from the customs strip search) was folded away in my roof tent in the container. So, out came the sarong placed over the sheets, and over me, two towels beneath which I curled. I read for a bit before trying to get some shut eye, but sleep came in fits and starts due to the missing section of wall above the door. I woke every time someone slip-slopped their way down the corridor or slammed the bathroom door, then at some ungodly hour the backpackers started playing beer pong on the table outside and I was subjected to a running commentary,  laughter and shrieks as the games came down to the wire. I later found out who to blame for this… Dan Sorrell.

I woke early and headed back to port for the day with Paul from Multiple Solutions. Being a Saturday, there wasn’t much to be done and so I was back by midday. Having decided there was no way I was spending another night at this backpackers, I sat outside and tried to get onto the elusive wifi (we had been given the password to hack into the wifi from a neighbouring resort and the only one bar ‘hot spot’ was on the driveway).

Whilst searching for alternative accommodation options for that night, and just about to tall a taxi, who should walk out of the backpackers front door but Boris frikkin Polo. He and Bruce Cattermole were up from Diani for the weekend for a friend’s party. I had met Boris and Bruce amongst other local wazungus (cue Dan “Swindian” Floren) at Forty Thieves (where else?) in Diani the week before.

After a few cold Tuskers at the in the bar it didn’t take much persuasion to stay at the backpackers, and as Boris and Bruce knew David the owner, it didn’t take much more to sort out a sweet upgraded room to myself outside the main house – mozi net intact, freshly painted walls and a shower with a shower curtain – amazing!

Bruce and Boris

Boris and Bruce invited me to join them and so off I went, to the birthday bash of people I didn’t know.  Now, partying with wazungu Kenyans is an event only attempted by the audacious. Thought I’d had plenty practise leading up to my London departure but these guys take things to a new level. The party was hosted by Mike K at his stunning home in Nyali. Complete with fairy lights along the drive, open entertainment area, free bar, poolside buffet and headgear theme, it rendered itself open to a bender of note. It wasn’t long before I was being introduced to high society Mombasa and up-country locals alike; the uncle of this one, second husband of so-and-so, and the cousin of that.  I did my best to keep up but the dawas (Swahili for muti/medicine – a lovely concoction of vodka, sugar and lime) were slowly working their way through my bloodstream and, like with all parties with free booze, things started getting a little hazy.

Mombasa Party – everyone ended up in the pool

Mikey Diesbecq hopped behind the bar to give the overworked barman a hand, and things started going off-piste something chronic. We had a great night, saw too many shenanigans and decided to leave at 4am once people started getting thrown into the pool. We got back to the backpackers to find Rasta Dave and a few other guys in a similar state on the foosball table.  Too much excitement for one night, I turned in. Two hours later I get a knock on my door, it’s Bruce looking to come cuddle. Too funny, we had a little chat and I gave him a high five through my mozi net before sending him packing.

Beer pong – a favourite past time at Mombasa Backpackers

I awoke just after 9am and hand on head, walked into the bar area to purchase some much needed H2O, only to find Bruce with a Tusker in hand and blood shot eyes… still awake, still drinking. Worst still was the shriek that came from the bar. On swift investigation I found a young brunette on the bar stool doubled over with laughter and a pretty blond girl, beer in one hand and needle in the next, piercing a bearded guy’s left ear.  I repeat, it’s 9am in the morning… Enter Emily, Izzie and Dan Sorrell. They hadn’t gone to bed either and were still hammered… Anyhow, long story short, Dan ended up sporting a new surfboard earring and we all went to the beach for the day where they continued to drink and soak up the sun. Sea urchins in feet and unsuccessful attempts at trying to persuade the local beach hotels to sell Dan bottles of rum saw us through to the afternoon. The young bloods continued their drinking marathon into the night with rounds of beer pong on the table tennis table. The following day I found Dan asleep on the concrete floor underneath the wicker sofa.

Mombasa Backpackers Crowd

The Diani crowd departed taking Izzie and Emily with them, and leaving me to fend for myself fighting the customs officials in port.

DIANI, KENYA
30th – 31st July 2013

Kenyaways Kite Village, Diani Beach

Tuesday came around and once I got the Land Cruiser out of the container I headed back to Mombasa to get a few things (before heading off to the parks for a week). Once in Mombasa I realised that it would be foolish to put foot flat and race up to Tsavo and so I decided to drive back to Diani and sort some kit out. I arrived at Kenyaways Kite Village where Boris has his H2O Kitesurfing school and called him and Bruce to tell them I was there – Izzie and Emily were on the loungers and we all ended up having great chow at Bruce’s Madafoos Beach Bistro.

Pluto and Scooby, my new fury friends

I stayed with Boris over the next few days. He has the most incredible spot on the beach down the coast – a little slice of heaven. Although Boris won’t admit it, I do think his dogs, Pluto, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Scooby, a big-boned “shhh don’t hurt her feelings”, Jack Russell started to love me more than him, and so I had to go before it became to obvious that his pets had switched allegiance.

I got all the recovery gear onto a bag and taupe on the roof and cargo netted it all down. Final placing of goods in their rightful boxes and the raiding of Nakumatt for the stocking of fridge perishables and Captain Morgan was high on the list of priorities. Boris was a complete legend and kindly donated two pairs of Havaiana flip flops, the largest sticker ever displayed for the back window of my LC, and an awesome black 50l bucket which he ratcheted to the roof for showers after those hot and dusty days!

Boris’ home-made shower of the roof rack – lasted about an hour before coming off

I met a great friend and business partner of Boris’ at lunch called Alex, and raided Boris’ contacts for useful people, campsites and places for the journey ahead; including names and numbers for Lovat and Chrissy Carnelley, and Mikey Diesbecq (party barman) who both live in Naivasha; “These guys will take you in”, he assured me.

Another thing Boris gave me good advice on, was the flamingo situation.  I had planned on going to Lake Nakuru to see flamingos but with the rising water levels, the salinity in the water is diluted, resulting in a reduced availability of algae and so the birds have flown to other smaller lakes to source this. Due to the lack of flamingos, Boris persuaded me not to go to Nakuru but to go to Naivasha instead to see his friends and said I should try the small lake next to Naivasha for flamingos.

And so, on Thursday 1st August, headed for Tsavo, I waved goodbye to Boris and the dogs and headed off into the Shimba Hills and beyond.

My drive had begun!

Expedition is GO – Boris’ House, Diani

TTC 1:  How I know Boris and Bruce is by pure chance… My last night at South Coast Backpackers (Diani) I wasn’t going out at all and was in my pyjamas.  But as the taxis arrived to take my Irish friends down the road to 40 Thieves, I had a sudden surge of FOMO, changed quickly and went with them.  I met Boris & Bruce that night through Dan Floren who I’d met the night before.

TTC 2: Nirvana Backpackers didn’t get back to me so ended up at Mombasa Backpackers, my second choice.

TTC 3: Minutes away from leaving Mombasa Backpackers and booking another place to stay, Boris and Bruce appear at the backpackers I wasn’t supposed to be at in the first place.

TTC 4: Boris persuades me to go to make last minute changes to go to Naivasha instead of Nakuru.

[17th August] I must apologise for the lack of blogging, but life on the road is hard work. I didn’t quite realise just how much time driving, sightseeing and daily camping routines would consume. But I have time now, and so with diary open, my fingers should fly over the keyboard.

MOMBASA, KENYA
26th – 30th July 2013

The past few days have been frustrating, but this is Africa, and it has it’s own time. The ship docked in Mombasa Port on Tuesday and the container unloaded on Wednesday. My fixers are doing their thing, lodging this and submitting that, but haven’t been able to give me a firm date for collection, and so I wait. Saturday seems like something may happen. I just want to get into the bush!

I’ve been staying in a nice hotel in the Bamburi area just North of Mombasa, with all the food and drink I could ask for. It was my treat for finally getting here after two years of planning and prep! Without sounding like a spoiled child, the days have all become a blur as the daily cycle of living in an all-inclusive resort repeats itself; eat breakfast, laze by the pool, read, eat lunch, play some volleyball or water polo with the hotel activity hosts, check emails, eat cake, drink coffee, laze some more, eat dinner. Three square meals a day (plus afternoon cake). Another week and I might have rolled out of the hotel lobby.

Neptune Beach Resort

Neptune Beach Resort, Mombasa

The hotel is so quiet and the staff have been super friendly, always a handshake, greetings and pleasantries before asking me if there’s anything I need. After just 5 days, I feel like a part of the furniture. I even got chatted up by the chef who wanted to take me up to Malindi for a good time and please could he have my email address.  I told him that the snapper was terrific but that I wouldn’t be taking him up on the kind offer. After lengthy discussions with a few of the other staff, I am a little more clued up on Kenyan tribes (there are around 42 of them), and have mastered a basic greeting conversation in Swahili (no prizes for this piece of linguist genius). The outlandish decadence could not continue any longer, it’s wasted on me, I feel awful when the staff trip over themselves to help me carry my bags or pull back my chair at dinner, and so I will move to a Backpackers today until the Beast has muscled it’s way out of customs.

I’m sitting in an office downtown Mombasa, opposite the Railway Station. After being driven here by my enthusiastic driver Peter, I am relieved to be here with life and limb intact. The roads are crazy and it almost feels like the drivers are playing a computer game, foot flat on the pedal.

No space to overtake? Sawa, no worries, we’ll overtake anyway, blind rises, solid lines, AND make the car on the opposite side veer off-road for good measure. No one gives and inch, no tapering of speed to let someone in, no slowing down when you see a taxi careering towards you on your side of the road – a game of chance (or chicken), except if it’s “Game Over” there is no option to “Start Again” – shucks man, is it really worth it?

Getting my car out of customs was a process I hope never to repeat. Tedious bureaucracy and manual paperwork makes for long hours in the shipping yard office. Multiple Solutions were handling everything for me. Reasons behind why my presence was needed (at times) still elude me. Not once did I sign anything, not once was I asked any questions. Finally, on day 6, a breakthrough! I followed my fixer Paul out in amongst all the stacked containers and found mine unloaded and on the ground.

Customs Port, Mombasa

We opened it up and were told to unpack everything and sprawl my neatly arranged contents onto the ground for inspection. A chap arrived after about an hour of my sitting in the sun. Frowning he snatched the list of declared goods from my hand. I will admit that, in my frayed state days before leaving London, I hadn’t taken too much time to consider the repercussions of not carefully considering the importance of this itemised account and I now stood wishing the list was a little less threadbare. To me, my entry called ‘personal effects’ covered clothing, toiletries and a host of other non-descript items which were clearly meant to be marked separately.  This did not please customs.

As the very official acting man called out each item on the list, I politely pointed out the seemingly obvious bits and pieces. Not satisfied that my sleeping bag was indeed inside the roof top tent, I was ordered to unfold the tent to prove this to him. If you have ever owned a roof top tent, you will be fully aware of the hassle required folding it away again. After half an hour, now ignoring me and seemingly satisfied with the contents, he thrust my list of declared goods back at Paul and walked off. Great, can we go now? Not so quick. Turns out this guy was just flexing his bureaucratic muscles and had nothing whatsoever to do with the signing off of my vehicle…

Mombasa Port Customs

A while later, flies buzzing around my beading forehead, a well-fed lady appears from behind a stack of crates. Approaching with well manicured toe nails in her smart black shoes, she wouldn’t look at me.  Her face resembling one which might have just sucked on a lemon, I got the distinct feeling that I may have interrupted her day by with my customs requirements, forcing her leave her air conditioned unit to join us out in the sun in the yard. We repeated the entire process all over again. By this time, I had been standing in the sun for well over 2 hours, all my traveling possessions splayed out on the concrete, I was quickly losing my sense of humour. Eventually it transpires that my spares, amongst other things, require ‘extra duty’ and the process will take a further week and a completely new application. Paul pulls me aside, “If you want this car out, you may have to part with some cash”. This is Africa. It took a small fortune of ‘parted cash’, additional taxes and fees for 2 extra days in port, and another full day of waiting in the CFS before customs they were satisfied.

Over the 6 days, spending hours in the waiting room in the CFS offices, I noticed a particular port official wait until I looked up and over towards his corner, before waving at me enthusiastically from behind the counter window at the port office.  Late on my final day, just as everyone was packing up to leave (I was still waiting for my truck with my container to depart), he finally emerges from behind the office area and comes to talk to me in the waiting room.  After a long discussion about my make-believe boyfriend and our plans for a great future together, he asks me if I want to live with him in Mombasa, or at least, please can we be Facebook friends so that he can poke me all the time.  I had to laugh.

Mombasa Port Chaos

My container was finally loaded onto a Multiple Solutions truck that afternoon and was to be moved to their handling yard 20kms outside of Mombasa at Miritini. At 5:30pm, just as we’re watching the trucks leave the CFS, one breaks down and another runs out of fuel right near the exit gate. Twenty local guys standing around, each one of them giving the trucks and cars different instructions.  Taxis pushing in and around trying to get through just made the situation even worse and eventually everything was in gridlock, with my truck still inside the yard. After half an hour of standstill, the truck hanging out the gate gets backed up.  They close the massive black gates to the CFS.  Paul is inside, I am outside, it’s getting dark, we’re at the port and there is nowhere to go.  At this point, the traffic clears and 5 minutes later the road is clear.  I look through the keyhole of the iron gates to let the port people know it’s ok to bring the trucks out again, but through the gap I can see the area beyond is empty and devoid of life.  Another half an hour passes, when suddenly the entrance gates, 200m down the road in the other direction open up and trucks start to exit via the entrance.  What a drama.  Finally my truck is out, my container is on it’s way to Miritini where we’d unload it the next day. I say again, this is Africa.

Handling Yard outside Mombasa

The following day I went with Paul to Miritini – the 20km journey takes around 45 minutes. The handling yard is in the middle of nowhere, and this is where the containers are stored and transported to their final destination by Multiple Solutions. After hanging about for almost an hour, they finally bring my container down off it’s truck and open it up. We drive it out and the guys very kindly start helping me get the roof tent onto the roof rack clamped down and spannered tight. We’re just about done when Paul says “I need to go back to the office to get your foreign permit for the car”. “Cool, I’ll follow you back into town”, I say. Not so fast, Paul informs me that I can’t drive on the roads without it. So I sit, for a further hour and a half whilst he goes back into town to collect this small piece of paper for my windscreen, leaving me to make small talk with the workers in the yard. Following this little hiccup, we say our goodbyes and he heads off back to Mombasa before I realise he still has my bags and my GPS in the boot of his car. I head back into Mombasa, GPS blind. Lucky I love maps and had a pretty good idea of where things were in Mombasa so found the office fairly easily and got my stuff off him.

I popped in to get a sim card, my Safaricard (necessary for topping up with cash before you go to the KWS parks) and petrol before deciding that it was a little bit late to rush through to Tsavo. Instead, I decided to go back to the coast, that little spot I had enjoyed so much the week before.  Back to the little haven of Diani, back to friends and their splendid spots where I was to spend the next two days sorting the car and myself out before hitting the road.

Leaving Mombasa by the Likoni Ferry was interesting…

Likoni Ferry, Mombasa – the ONLY route from Mombasa to Diani

Africa Bound and Diani Beach, Kenya

Unfortunately for those keen to follow this trip, I don’t write very well and have no copywriter to help make my entries more embellished or intelligible.  I will struggle to keep up with my fellow trans African bloggers who so effortlessly weave wit and humour into their notes.  There is no magic instagram filter to enhance my ramblings, so  you will have to put up with undisguised and ordinary accounts of daily life on the road.

Packing my bag for the final time a few days before leaving (I had packed it many times over in the months leading up to this moment), I realised I had completely misjudged the situation.  Undoing the stacks of neatly folded items, I found (amongst other completely unsuitable garments) a skin hugging heavy long sleeved top and a woolly beanie!  I had packed this bag in April when the temperatures were only just nibbling at 15 degrees or so.  It was a stiflingly humid and sticky night in London, not dissimilar to a typical night in Africa, so I used the heat simulation situation to try to salvage my packing debacle fast!  Frantically, I started trying on each piece…  Like a Primark changing room on payday, I soon found myself with a heap of unsuitable clothing at my feet.

Atop the folding shovel, collapsible step stool, four large padlocks and 180 malaria tablets (all the important items that didn’t make it into the Beast in time), I started repacking more suitable African attire.  My tiny expedition bag weighed a ton.

Whisked to the airport by Lizzy, I said my goodbyes and proceeded with the usual process of checking in and boarding.  Following a 6 hour stopover in Frankfurt, I boarded Condor air, forecast by Gemma as the type of low cost flight that would lend itself to non-reclinable seats, no food and certainly no individual seat-back screens.  Fearful that I should miss a meal (and not wanting to mission about sorting myself out for food), I had booked and paid and additional 15 euro for a special meal, and eagerly awaited my treat.

As a solo traveler with a seat next to me, my unelected neighbour for the duration of the flight was an elderly gentleman by the name of Klaus, from Frankfurt of course, who mistakenly ended up eating my special meal (I was too embarrassed to tell him that I had been given his ordinary meal).  He filled the next 2-3 hours with chat about Africa and his involvement in helping companies get their auditing on track.  I was just about to tell him that I desperately needed some sleep (it was near midnight) when he dropped this on me; “How long would you like to live for?”.  Deep.  My answers were becoming short and sharp and this definitely wasn’t a topic I wished to engage in at this time of night.  He proceeded to tell me that he believed we were born into bodies that were not meant to die, God had made us perfect, and that it was Adam and Eve’s fault for making the wrong decision in the garden of Eden that had doomed us all to certain death.  That was just the start of it.  I’m not kidding, by now I’d worked out that Klaus was a Jehova’s witness and I was subjected to a further hour and a half of quotes from the bible and justifications at to how these were relevant today.  Eventually he must have grown weary of his own monologue and finally stopped talking.  I tried in vain to sleep and couldn’t, but pretended to be deeply unconscious, missing my breakfast on purpose, until we touched down in Mombasa and the seat belt signs had been switched off.  He left me with a hearty handshake, told me what a brave young lady I was, and slipped me a little piece of yellow paper (the type they try to hand you at your front door) with a little handwritten note guiding me towards the Jehova’s witness website if I did ever want to find out more…

Waiting for my baggage, I couldn’t help but wonder what a fully loaded plane of white westerners was doing here – why Mombasa?  I spotted one African family and the rest of the ‘arivees’ were all Caucasian.  Some traveling I expect, but there was a real mix of old and young, and some families.  Just shows how little I actually know about Kenya – clearly Mombasa is the place to be!  I exchanged a bit of money at Mombasa airport and took strode out to greet my pre-arranged taxi driver.  “Jumbo! It’s good to be back in Africa.”

Driving from Mombasa to Diani Beach, we passed the hustle and bustle of daily life along the East Coast.  For most of the journey out of Mombasa we hooted our way through the traffic, bobbing and weaving past dosey pedestrians, cart-dragging traders, clapped out taxis, noisy tuk-tuks, slow cyclists, reckless motorbikes, smelly busses and straying livestock.  The streets were lined with shacks and stalls, most ramshackled, made from corrugated iron with black plastic roofs held down by tyres, or basic wooden lean-to’s adorned with tomatoes, kale and bananas.  ‘Come in for a Cold Tusker’ one bar beckoned, ‘Welcome to the Lion Eye and Blood Centre’ announced a clinic.  Passing the ‘Nice and Lovely Hair Salon’ I noted a neatly formed crocodile rank of school-bound girls in their proud grey uniforms.  There are a lot of clinics and academies along the way.  Healthcare and schooling seem to be a priority which is good.  Nearing Diani Beach, things start to thin out a bit and you really get a feeling you’re nearing the coast.  Tall palm trees line the road and the dwellings become more farm-like.  At Ukunda we hung a left and headed further south along the Diani Beach road.  Resorts line almost every inch of the way through Diani and beyond.  Diani is a tourist hot spot – beautiful beaches and cobalt blue seas make it a desirable destination for backpackers and resort dwellers alike.

Diani Beach

South Coast Backpackers

My home for the next 5 days was South Coast Backpackers, a melting pot of travelers and volunteers.  It’s run by three young French chaps who enjoy a good party and is the place to be if you’re young and hip (I did well to fit in).  This is the type of place where people dip in and out so much, you end up calling eachother by the country from which you hail.  “Hey, South Africa, come and have a shot with me” yelled Canada from the pool-side thatch bar.  “Ok, cool, let me go and get Austria and Ireland, I’m sure they’ll want one too” I yell back.

I quickly come to appreciate that my ‘adventure in a nice big 4×4 with all the mod cons’ pales in comparison to some stories.  David, a 20 year old Austrian kid is volunteering for months at a time in small remote villages playing football with the street kids and giving adults English lessons – that, my friends is incredible.

Gale Beach, South of Mombasa

The backpackers did stuff together.  We sat around talking about our journeys, caught motorbikes up and down the coast multiple times a day, hired a dhow once to to swim and snorkel off the coast, crossed rivers to get to remote beaches, partied at Forty Thieves Beach Bar.  I didn’t play cards ONCE which is quite something!

Ireland one & two (Amy and Tonia), and I spent a day at Swahili Beach Resort.  At a cool £300 plus per night, this was a little out of the price range, so we opted for the day trip option and had a coke and pizza pool side.

Shimba Hills, Kwale – near Diani Beach

For my final night, we arranged to go up to Shimba Hills for sunset which was just breath-taking.  The land just dips away and you can see for miles across the escarpment.  Envisage newly-born Lion King Simba, being dangled over pride rock by Rafiki, and you’ve just about captured the moment.  Denmark played the Cirlce of Life soundtrack whilst we all sipped on Tuskers and watched the sun set over Kilimanjaro in the distance.

Back to Mombasa

The Beast was due to dock in Mombasa on the 22nd July and did so (horray for smooth sailing), and I am currently awaiting instructions from customs to come in and drive it out of there.  I can’t wait to hit the road.

Next stop – Tsavo and Amboseli game reserves – life is good!

Leaving London, UK

And today the journey begins…

I’ve had a pretty good send off… ski trip, pool parties, braais, the Northcote, the Ship, golf days, cricket, Wimbledon tennis, Hurlingham polo, theatre shows, Inferno 30ths, weekends away, cards & cocktails in Roehampton towers, 11 hour marathon shithead sessions, table tennis into the night, runs (some in colour), festivals, beer pong and giant cards at the Wandle… and it’s all been thanks to my incredible friends who have been on amazing form over the past few months.

Helen (sorry this list is not alphabetised…), Mikey, Phil, Jane, Aaron, Bassy, Psycho, Gazellie, Sal, Cath, Marky, Green, Smithy, Schmiks, Baarrr, the Judges, Truts, Kristina, Von, Bon, Lorry, Laura, Beccy, Amy, Joe, Liiiiiiiina Jenkins, Fi, Pix, Tummy, Nix, Tinx, Lin, Kez, Suse, Wiilie, Corras & Amy – you need a very special mention for putting up with my FOMO, my relentless need to see you all constantly, and my endless attempts to have “the final big one” (over and over again…)

After 12 years in London, I leave; content and fulfilled, optimistic about the future and super charged for the stretch of road just ahead.  Friends, you make me who I am and will all continue to be at the forefront of my thoughts throughout this journey.

It’s going to be one hell of a ride!

The Long Farewell, UK

It will come to those who know me as no surprise, I am always late… and leaving for this trip is no exception.

I was supposed to leave 2 years ago, but following a few set backs and hold ups along the way, the blue Beast is finally on it’s way to Mombasa.

I had high hopes of driving from my home in SW London all the way to Cape Town via Europe and down the dark continent but things don’t always pan out as you hope, so you adapt, change a few plans and carry on.

Here’s how I got to this point…

In January 2011 I decided that this adventure through Africa was definitely something I needed look into.  What started as a pinky promise with Von Dog at a drunken hockey function in 2006, grew into a very real possibility when I decided to move to Australia.  A few months road tripping from Egypt to South Africa in between leaving London and starting again in Perth, sounded like the perfect gap filler.

I started looking for a buyer for my business. A good friend and fellow hockey player, Sinéad (Huss), had been coaching for me for almost 2 years.  She was keen to take on the business with her husband Geoff and we started putting wheels in motion.  Excited at the prospect of leaving the business in the hands of my very capable protégée, I found myself a sturdy Land Cruiser in April 2011 and announced that I would be leaving in July or August.

Cue Farewell 1:  In April 2011, at our Richmond Hockey Club Annual Awards Dinner, Gemma “Psycho” Anderson, announced that I would be leaving after 10 years with the club, thrust a leaving card in my hand and ushered me onto a chair to make a speech.  Not having prepared anything, and fueled with cane, I muttered something about me being a huge part of the club’s life (?!) and that, although difficult, everyone should continue to try to beat my best season goal tally of 26 (which had already beaten many times over since then).  Uncharacteristically emotional, Gemma then burst into tears – all very touching… Goodbye Richmond Hockey Club.  PS I never had a party…

Sadly, Geoff passed away and so Sinéad moved back to Ireland to be with her family.

I continued to run the business and put the Beast into hibernation at my parents’ place in Bournemouth where it sat for almost a full year. SORN… Sadly On (the) Road (to) Nowhere.  But I continued to scheme and plan…

By late 2011, I had resigned myself to the fact that the business might not be sold straight away, and that traveling these Western roads wasn’t the best idea so I had to change the route plans again due to crazy times in the middle East and north Africa…  Further planning ensued and I started looking for travel companions again.  But hard to find people to commit to coming with, when you yourself don’t even have a set leaving date!

In April 2012 I had another hopeful buyer for the franchise, and as hopeful as it all sounded, this sale also fell through.  But in December 2012, I ended up selling the franchise to another fellow hockey player.  Bonny had worked for me for a few months and was the ideal person to take on the business.  And breathe…

TO DO:  finish off the storage section of the Land Cruiser, get the carnet de passage, find insurance, apply for various bits and pieces of official paperwork and visas, pack the rest of my life into my garage for shipping to Aus and DRIVE!

At the end of 2012, through mutual friends and Julian Voelkar, I met Christa and Grant (Blog: The Colonel’s Journal).  This wonderfully chilled couple were also in the process of planning an almost carbon copy trip from London down to Cape Town.  Perfect timing worked in our favour and we were all ready to leave in April 2013. Traveling with a second vehicle was a god-send, especially as I wasn’t keen on the facing ferry crossings in dodgy port towns alone, as a single white female…

But that would be far too simple and far too straight forward…

Cue Farewell 2: In preparation for my departure with C&G, I got round to seeing good mates, having drinks in the city, visiting friends with kids and set about gathering my finest people in, none other but our watering hole of choice for Winter 2012, The Northcote.

But that would be too straightforward, drama strikes a few days prior to this… it turns out I’m not going anywhere fast…

T minus 2 weeks, my Land Cruiser won’t start – the engine turns but doesn’t catch and actually start up.  Cue Hungerford Motors and a tow truck… Verdict: a piece of rubber seal has come loose, fallen in between the timing belt and cog, snapped the timing belt and blown the engine.  4 weeks and 2.7K later, I get the Beast back.  Toyota quoted £11k for a new engine so the garage fixed and mended what they could.  Luckily they found enough valves to replace the damaged parts – not too many spares kicking about from the 1997 LC models these days.

I wave goodbye to Grant and Christa with heavy heart.  I read their blog with envy as they pass the Italy, Greece and Turkey making their way down through Europe.  (Check out their nightmare getting from Turkey to Egypt – so glad I didn’t have to do this on my own!)

Too much time had passed to catch up with C&G, and with the seasons changing in Africa, I decided to ship the LC to Kenya instead.

So here I am, the LC has been loaded by Wise Moves and is currently on the high seas.  I follow in 4 weeks time and will be reunited in Mombasa in mid July.

What a blady journey, but we’re doing it!

Why Adventure?

One of the first questions many people ask when talking about my adventures is “Why are you doing this?” or “What is the purpose?”. I never seem to have a great answer lined up… if you’ve never had the urge to do what I do, then I don’t know how to describe the compulsion I have to explore. It’s something I can’t explain.

Is it nature or nurture that makes one’s appetite for seeing the bigger world, different from the next person?

Growing up in Zimbabwe, my father was a hard working man and whilst we never camped or went on many wild adventures as a family, he never treated me with girl gloves. Instead, he taught me to fix things, problem solve, make a plan, stand on my own two feet, remain calm in times of panic, get lost and find my way again and walk in the dark without being scared. I am the person I am today largely because of him.

I expect that my childhood may have been a little out of the ordinary. Growing up in Africa is an adventure in itself. We lived through the bush war, had to worry about rations and had regular bomb drills at school. Due to the nature of my father’s work, we moved around quite a bit and often lived in the middle of nowhere. So at the tender age of 7, I found myself in a Catholic boarding school where the only way to keep busy in the afternoons was to play sport and take long walks up the local koppie (small hill) behind the school. The nuns would teach us about the wildlife and plants, and I was in my element.

When I was 8, we lived on a farm and during the holidays, my sister and I would spend our time jumping from haystacks, building forts in the blue gum forest and riding our bikes for miles in to the fields and paddocks. That year, I asked my parents for a tent for my birthday. My wish came true and I became the owner of a canary yellow triangle framed tent which came with me into the garden at night and down to the dam when I took walks with my dog during the day. It still remains the best birthday present I have ever received.

My cousins lived in Botswana and we would visit them over the school holidays. Our family and friends would take trips out into the bush and braai (BBQ) in the dry river beds. The boys had motorbikes and we’d roar up and down on the dirt tracks. We’d always go with a second bike but on one particular trip, at age 9, I found myself separated from the others and a long way from our party. With darkness closing in, I spent the next hour or so trying to pin point where I might need to ride to but with hundreds of small tracks crisscrossing through the long grass, it was anyone’s guess. I eventually found my way back by retracing my tracks by matching the tread pattern on my tyre to the impressions left in the soft sand. It was slow going, but I found my way back in the end and was greeted by my fairly concerned parents.

In 1999, a group of seven of us set off from Pretoria and spent a few months hitchhiking around Southern Africa. But that is another story altogether….

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”  –  Pat Conroy

Topics to consider, debate and reflect on…

Hardest Part of Travelling that No One Talks About

Why the Hell Not?

Opening line to the Overlanders Handbook…

“The decision to undertake a long overland journey in a vehicle can germinate from a moment’s inspiration, a decision to take on ‘The Big Trip’ after a successful series of lesser journeys, or just the plain old desire to cut loose from the regimented lives many of us lead, and have a big adventure.”

My decision was made on the top of Kilimanjaro in 2008…  why the hell not?

Route Saga

PLAN A

“Go West”, they sing! Following fellow travelers Kirk and Dale’s trip in 2010 (SawubonAfrica), I had decided that they were getting to see much of “real Africa” – taking in both the West and Eastern sides before heading down South. Super plan! I would follow a very similar route and drive from London, through Spain to the Straight of Gibraltar before cruising through Morocco, Senegal, Mali, down Western Africa and into Angola before traversing through Zambia to Eastern Africa and making my way down the East from there. After many months of meticulous planning and thought, I realised that traveling through Nigeria and such countries didn’t really compare to Ethiopia, and those I’d miss on the other side.  I decided I needed to go East…

PLAN B

My initial thoughts, getting to East Africa from London via Egypt, involved driving down through France and Spain, cross at the Strait of Gibraltar, drive along the coast of North Africa to Egypt and then down the East side – seemed simple enough. Planning for this route was researched over many months and I had the route mapped, almost to the day, on Google Maps. Distances, sights and sounds – I had it waxed. Then someone decided to play silly buggers with the powers of the universe, and sent the Arabic world and it’s dictators into crazy mode….

On the 14th February 2011, following the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 3 days earlier, Libya descends into chaos and dictator Muammar Gaddafi hunkers down for a fight. No way through – unless I intend on joining the protests or volunteer as a moving target for the pro-Gaddafi supporters.
NO ROUTE THROUGH NORTH AFRICA.

PLAN C

Following the turmoil in North Africa, I thought I might use the Summer to explore some of Europe’s finest countries, Belgium, Austria, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece before touching African soil. Now I wasn’t too keen on getting a ferry over the Mediterranean as it seemed far more exciting to try to drive as much of the route as possible. Crossing water on a ferry, without the wheels turning, somehow seemed like I might be cheating… and, as there’s land between Europe and Africa, I could drive round the Mediterranean, through Turkey, into Syria, down to Jordan and catch a short ferry across to the Egyptian peninsula near Dahab. Bit of a waste though as I have traveled through Jordan and dived Dahab previously, but it was a plan none-the-less.

With riots in Egypt, I looked into driving from Jordan down through Saudi Arabia and catching a short ferry from Jeddah to Port Sudan. This route was fraught from the start with two problems. Firstly, all visas for the next few countries could only be obtained in Cairo, and secondly, as a female in Saudi Arabia, I would only be allowed in the vehicle with a male relative and wouldn’t be allowed to drive…

Right, so the decision was to brave Cairo. According to our friends Gav and Nadia who were living there at the time, it was fine – so this seemed like the best solution.

There had been a bit of trouble in Syria, but overlanders were still making their way through safely by avoiding the hot spots. Didn’t last long… cue Syria unrest. It becomes too dangerous to travel through Syria and all non-essential travel is discouraged from March 2011.

Let’s check the map to see if we can drive around Syria and avoid it? Uh, perhaps not, Iraq sits to the East, so out of the question…
NO ROUTE ROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN

PLAN D

I’ll skip the drive and take a ferry from Greece to Alexandria (which actually docks in Syria on the way). Sorted, found a ferry company, shipping wasn’t too expensive and would take around 4 days. Hectic planning ensued, mostly to do with the Wadi Halfa crossing from Egypt into Sudan which seemed to be a real talking point on the overlanding forums.

Shortly thereafter, the ferry company stopped running it’s route due to the Syrian and, to an extent, Egyptian unrest.
NO ROUTE VIA FERRY TO EAST AFRICA

I’m back to where I started and with no option into East Africa, we’re back to Plan A…  WESTERN AFRICA

Europe, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, DRC, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa

UPDATE:  Since the above plan was re-hatched, the ferry routes started to open up and crossing the Med was now a possibility again!  Europe to Turkey and then Egypt and down – SORTED!  But things are never as straight forward as we’d like them to be… read about the drama that unfolded here…

Taking all risks into account (as a single female), I decided to ship the Beast to Mombasa and drive from there onward.  After over 2 years of planning, it’s finally come together!

Taming the Beast, UK

After over a year of searching for a trusty 4×4 that would meet the demands of an epic adventure such as this, I stumbled upon this beast of a Land Cruiser, basking in the Surrey sun. With 4 new hard core takkie tyres for rough roads, leather seats and intercooler system for those long hot days in Mama Africa, and a built-in winch for getting out of sticky situations off the beaten track, it is perfect steed for overlanding and exactly what I was after.

Since then, the beast has spent many a day out in Hereford with the Land Cruiser guru that is Julian Voelcker, who has given it a full overhaul and has completely pimped it out ready for the journey that awaits.  An axle rebuild to withstand the weight of all our katunda, new brakes for dust billowing stops in front of unsuspecting persons or wildlife, new suspension for those ruts and corrugations and snorkel for swimming through rivers like an elephant. Much happiness and Land Cruiser love ensued following this purchase.

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